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Three Things We Learned Monday: Kawhi Leonard outduels James Harden, makes MVP case in Spurs win

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Busy Monday around the NBA, but I want to talk about Luke Cage, the Marvel comics series put on Netflix. I loved the first couple episodes, I was hooked, and then this show went for a walk in the wilderness. The clever writing and banter from the barbershop gave way to cliché or story lines that had the subtlety of an Adam Sandler film. It still was pretty good, I was just disappointed it didn’t fulfill its own promise.

1) Kawhi Leonard outduels James Harden, makes MVP case in Spurs win.
James Harden, one of the co-frontrunners for MVP (along with Russell Westbrook), had 39 points on 20 shots, plus dished out 12 assists. The Spurs defended him well, but he was 7-of-13 on contested shots. He was more than impressive in his leading of the Rocket offense, as he has been all season.

And he was the second best player on the court. Kawhi Leonard led the Spurs to their eighth straight win with 39 points on 18 shots, he was 7-of-10 on contested looks, but he mostly strengthened his MVP case with his clutch play in the final minute when he hit the game winner on one end and blocked Harden on the other.

That is the core of Leonard’s case for the award — he is scoring 26.3 points a game and is the focal point of the fifth best offense in the NBA (the Spurs ranking), but he is also a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, something the two people considered ahead of him on the list are not near. Leonard is making his MVP case, and it’s a strong one.

2) Andrew Bogut fractures tibia in first couple minutes on court with Cavaliers, likely done for season.
This just sucks. Andrew Bogut was a great pickup for the Cavaliers, someone who could come in and essentially play a better version of the Timofey Mozgov “big off the bench” role for the Cavs in certain matchups, giving them depth and versatility up front. It was a good fit.

Then in the first couple minutes on the court with his new team, this happened.

It was a fluke play. Bogut closed out on Miami’s Okaro White at the arc, and White made the right play putting the ball on the floor and trying to drive past him. However, White’s knee hit Bogut clean in the shin and fractured his leg. Bogut went to the ground clearly in pain.

The Cavaliers are still the team to beat in the East, but this is the kind of little thing that could matter in the Finals.

3) Clippers seem back, pick up win over Celtics at home. If the Clippers can stay healthy and find their form from the first month of the season, they can make the West playoffs interesting. I’m far from sold they can do it, but they looked closer to that Monday night beating the Celtics than anything we have seen in a while.

Chris Paul‘s brilliance kept the game close in the first half, then midway through the third the Clippers took off and outscored the Celtics 63-35 to close the game and get the win. It was an offensive tour d’ force, with a combination of finding open men rolling hard to the rim, or getting the ball to open shooters who were knocking down shots. Chief among them was Jamal Crawford, who had 19 points in the game but almost all of those during the Clippers run, when he was draining threes.

Jazz center Rudy Gobert hits super-max criteria for extension projected to be worth $250 million over five years

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Anthony Davis signed a max rookie-scale contract extension in 2015, between his third and fourth seasons. Based on the Collective Bargaining Agreement at the time, the extension called for him to earn a higher salary if he was twice voted an All-Star starter or made two All-NBA teams during his first four seasons. Davis was voted an All-Star starter and made the All-NBA first team in his third season.

Unfortunately for Davis, he missed both honors his fourth year. The All-NBA and All-Star-starter tracks ran independently. Davis couldn’t qualify for a higher max salary by earning one of each.

That cost him $19,683,908 over the four pre-player-option seasons of his extension, which will end next year.

The current CBA’s more significant adjustments to super-max eligibility – changing the years for qualification, using Defensive Player of the Year instead of All-Star starter – obscured a minor tweak. The tracks now run together. A player can qualify with one Defensive Player of the Year and one All-NBA selection. He needn’t achieve two of one category.

So, Jazz center Rudy Gobert – who won won Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 and made All-NBA this year – quietly became eligible to sign a super-max extension in the 2020 offseason. The extension’s highest-allowable value projects to be $250 million over five years. The first four years would follow the structure of the super-max Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers are set to sign.

Newsflash: Gobert isn’t Lillard.

Gobert is elite defensively and underrated offensively. But paying him $50 million per year from ages 30-34 in a league overflowing with good centers? That’s a recipe for disaster for Utah.

But Gobert earned eligibility. That makes it harder for the Jazz to tell him they don’t deem him worthy. That tension is an unintended consequence of the super-max rules.

There is room for negotiation. In this case, Gobert’s designated-veteran-player extension must be for five seasons and have a starting salary between 30% and 35% of the 2021-22 salary cap. But his salary can increase or decrease annually by up to 8% of his first-year salary. The deal can be partially guaranteed.

Still, the lowest possible designated-veteran-player extension for Gobert projects to be $155 million over five years. If fully guaranteed, that’d be expensive for a player of his age. If not fully guaranteed, the Jazz would get savings only by waiving him, and that’d mean dropping the cheaper latter years.

Because he doesn’t have enough experience to qualify, Gobert can’t sign a super-max extension until the 2020 offseason. He met the award criteria, but a player must have seven or eight years of experience. Gobert just finished his sixth year. He’s also under contract for two more seasons – locked into salaries of $24,758,427 next season and $26,275,281 the following year.

So, there’s time to figure this out.

But this is the most uneasy super-max situation so far – unless Gobert just doesn’t insist on the money. Good luck with that.

Rumor: Wizards interested in Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey

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The Wizards struck out on luring Nuggets president Tim Connelly.

Washington’s next choice?

Ben Standig of NBC Washington:

As for the rumor mill, one name stands out: Neil Olshey.

Numerous sources told NBC Sports Washington of the Wizards’ interest in Blazers President of Basketball Operations

Olshey has done a good job in Portland. He drafted Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum then built a winner around those two after LaMarcus Aldridge left. Trading for and re-signing Jusuf Nurkic to a reasonable contract looks great. Olshey also overpaid Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe and Festus Ezeli, but many teams spent wildly in 2016. It was a weird summer.

The Wizards would do well to hire such a proven executive.

Would Olshey leave the Trail Blazers? Their ownership situation remains uncertain following the death of Paul Allen in October. Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has demonstrated extreme loyalty to his executives.

Portland will also reportedly sign Damian Lillard to a super-max extension – a move that practically must be made, but one that carries massive downside risk. However, if he goes to Washington, Olshey would be trading uncertainty in Damian Lillard’s value on the super-max for certain negative value with John Wall on his super-max extension.

A couple years ago, Olshey signed his own extension through 2021. Maybe he’s ready to move on.

Or maybe he’s ready to use the Wizards as leverage for a raise.

Rumor: Lakers hired Jason Kidd to lure Giannis Antetokounmpo

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New Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he wanted Jason Kidd because Kidd is a good coach.

Steve Popper of Newsday:

the person familiar with the Lakers process said something else: that Kidd was brought to Los Angeles to attract Giannis Antetokounmpo to the Lakers when he becomes a free agent in two years when the Bucks star could become an unrestricted free agent.

Things I believe:

1. This plan probably wouldn’t work. Not only does Antetokounmpo appear happy in Milwaukee, he has specifically said he could never see himself playing for Los Angeles. And though I believe Antetokounmpo respected Kidd while Kidd coached him, look at the Bucks now. They’re so much better under Mike Budenholzer. You think Antetokounmpo is itching to play for Kidd again after seeing the other side?

2. The Lakers might just try this wild plan anyway. Remember when they were waiting to hire a coach in 2014 so free agent LeBron James could pick? Aside from signing LeBron last year, who seemingly had his eye on Los Angeles for years and for reasons other than basketball, the Lakers have struck out on star free agents. The franchise is getting desperate.

3. People want to believe the Lakers would do something crazy like this, and that makes the rumor spread faster – whether or not it’s true. The Lakers, because of their stature, tactics and general manager have made many enemies around the league. Plenty of folks are enjoying piling on.

Drake says Raptors ‘are like a college sports team’ (VIDEO)

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The Toronto Raptors are just one win away from their first ever NBA Finals appearance. Kawhi Leonard helped Toronto beat the Milwaukee Bucks, 105-99, on Thursday night in game 5. That gave the Raptors a 3-2 Series lead over the Bucs as they head back to Canada on Saturday.

Meanwhile, rapper Drake and a bunch of fans watched the victory over Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Jurassic Park outside of Scotiabank Arena. Elated with the win, Drake of course made statements to local television and to the crowd itself, saying the Raptors were “like a college team”.

Via Twitter:

Game 6 is on Saturday in Ontario at 5:30 p.m. PST.